Friday, 11 August 2017

A big lump of a Yellow-legged Gull

A real bruiser of a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at my regular gulling spot in Chiswick - comfortably the best views I've had of the species so far this summer, this beast showed no fear as it came to within just a few yards.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick, 10 August 2017

This 3cy bird is also regular in Fulham at the moment; its plumage is pretty advanced and it likes to sit on the old moorings by The Crabtree pub.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Not much to look at but ...

... gulls.

Still a steady turnover of Yellow-legged Gulls on the Thames near me, including this juvenile which obligingly flew around a few times and allowed the opportunity for some half-decent flight shots. The gulls tend to be very lazy near me at low tide, preferring to waddle rather than fly.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Fulham, 7 August 2017

G0UT remains in situ, favouring the river at low tide and then heading to the wetland centre (and presumably elsewhere too) as the water rises.

2cy Caspian Gull 'G0UT', Fulham, 7 August 2017

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

More gulls, I'm afraid

Unless I go to the wetland centre, the mid-summer period totally lacks in decent birding opportunities in West London. Apart from the gulls, of course.

The first juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls have started to appear. Each session on 'my' stretch of the Thames between Craven Cottage, Fulham, and Chiswick Pier produces up to five michahellis, usually always involving a different selection of birds. I've had at least three different juveniles over the past couple of weeks, although most of the birds seen have been 2cy and 3cy, with the one or two older birds thrown in for good measure.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Fulham, 23 July 2017

2cy Herring (left) and 2cy Yellow-legged Gulls, Fulham, 23 July 2017

You don't really expect to see Caspian Gulls in July but I've been fortunate enough to be blessed with two scraggy first-summers on the river near me over the past two weeks. The first was a bird I've not seen before, German-ringed 'X307' - this bird having been noted regularly in East London since it was first seen by Jamie Partridge at Thames Barrier Park on 25 September 2016 (here are a couple of nice photos of it taken by Rich in March). It's from a mixed (predominately Caspian) colony on the Polish border but to me this bird doesn't obviously stand out as a bird of mixed heritage, I thought it looked fine as a first-winter and still think the same looking at it now.

2cy Caspian Gull 'X307', Fulham, 21 July 2017

The second bird, first seen just two days after X307's appearance, was a more familiar face - 'G0UT', a Thames-ringed Casp that first visited this stretch of the Thames back in late March, a few days after it was ringed at Pitsea. Here are a few pics of it from back then. I'd say this one is a bit less impressive than X307, showing a few more hints that Herring Gull might be mixed in somewhere down the line. A few images from recent visits below, it seems pretty regular at the moment so here's hoping it hangs around here for a while.

 23 July

31 July

And a few bits of 'interest':

4cy Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull, 29 July

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull, 29 July. This species must breed somewhere along this stretch of the Thames - I see at least one pair of adults throughout the year and two youngsters present last week were very fresh. There are usually a few immatures hanging around as well.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Yellow-legged Gulls are back!

With a handful of lingering immatures mincing around throughout the spring and early summer, I guess it's fair to say that Yellow-legged Gulls have never actually left London. However, the annual mid-summer build-up of michahellis is now well underway and my first visit to the Thames for a couple of months revealed a handful of these entertaining birds. Curiously, none were juveniles - in fact most were 3cy.

Black-headed Gulls are also coming back in numbers - no Med yet though.

And, as always, it's worth keeping an eye out for rings. Here's a North Thames Gull Group bird that I'd not seen before.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Caspian Tern on my old patch

Mike Weedon scored heavily with an adult Caspian Tern at Baston & Langtoft Pits, my old stomping ground during my teenage years. Though a regular vagrant to Britain, it's an undeniably impressive species and, with a clear afternoon on the cards, I couldn't resist twitching it.

By the time I arrived it had been missing for the best part of 45 minutes but, after a nervous wait, was picked up fishing over some of the more mature pits in the middle of the (private) complex. Views were initially distant but it then had the decency to perform a close fly-by as it headed back to its favoured roosting spot on the new wader scrape on the north side of the pits - this fantastic site has been producing great birds for a couple of years now, and finally it's had its first true rarity.

Incidentally the bird bears a red ring, identifying it as the individual seen previously in Carmarthenshire and Northamptonshire. The red ring seems to suggest it's Swedish, though I'm not sure if anyone has managed to read the ring fully yet. It'll be interesting to see where it pops up next, assuming it doesn't hang around at BLGP.

A few grab shots below - hurriedly taken using sub-optimal settings and against a grey sky, and not really in focus. But you can tell what it is!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

On the wrong side of the planet ...

Time is not really on my side at the moment due to various ongoing work commitments (the fruits of which should be available to see soon at, but here are a few record shots of the Grey-tailed Tattler that I was fortunate enough to come across in the famous quarry at Cabo da Praia, Terceira, Azores, while leading a tour there last Friday. Unfortunately we only had an hour in the strong mid-afternoon sunshine to watch this East Asian vagrant before our early-evening flight back to São Miguel. This represents the first for the Azores and Portugal as well as being just the fifth for the Western Palearctic.

As and when time allows I hope to feed back a bit more on recent trips to Taiwan and Colombia, as well as the Azores tour.

Grey-tailed Tattler, Cabo da Praia, 7 July 2017

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Mallorca weekender

It had been over 15 years since I last visited Mallorca and a return visit was in order to connect with two specialities: Balearic Warbler and [Balearic] Tyrrhenian Flycatcher. Though I'd seen the flycatcher previously, this was as an uneducated 10-year-old and long before the potential split had been suggested, so it was as good as a tick.

I found the island to be much busier and more developed than when I'd previously visited with my parents in the 90s/early 2000s. There were also literally thousands of cyclists! Of course by no means a bad thing, but quite extraordinary to see so many people dedicating time to this ever-more popular hobby. It also meant you had to be pretty careful driving around corners on the winding mountain roads ...

Despite the increased development, many areas of the island remain beautifully unspoilt. It's always nice to see more traditional farming methods being practised and field edges full of Corn Buntings, Stonechats and larks (among others) - a stark contrast to the largely barren wastelands of the South Lincolnshire fens. The weather was also brilliant - although a little breezy on the Saturday, the sun shone throughout the weekend and the temperature was very pleasant in the low twenties (apart from at dawn, when it was positively chilly).

Bird-wise, I struggled a little with Balearic Warbler but eventually found a confiding bird at the Boquer Valley late morning on Sunday. Unfortunately the light was very strong by this time and my photos aren't what I'd hoped for on the outward journey (having dedicated two early mornings to finding them).

♂ Balearic Warbler, Vall de Boquer, 7 May

Occupying a similar niche to the warblers were both Thekla Larks and Tawny Pipits. I hadn't seen the former for a few years, and the views of the latter were perhaps the best I've ever had.

Migration wasn't as prevalent as it had been the previous weekend when, by all accounts, the island was littered with passerines after heavy storms. Nonetheless small numbers of nominate Spotted Flycatchers, Willow and Garden Warblers and a single Common Redstart were seen. Best passerine was a Melodious Warbler at Formentor lighthouse on the Saturday evening, apparently a fairly uncommon bird on Mallorca (but presumably overlooked?). I was also pleased to see a female Pallid Harrier over Portocolom on Saturday morning - I guess this would have been a big deal 10 years ago, but it seems to be recorded annually on Mallorca these days.

♀ Pallid Harrier, Portocolom, Mallorca, 6 May

It was also great to see a few Red-footed Falcons. I had three (ad ♂, 2cy ♂, 2cy ♀) at Vilafranca de Bonany and two (ad ♀, 2cy ♀) at Maria de la Salut. Heat haze was always a problem for photos as I saw both 'groups' in the middle of the day, but a few records below.

 Adult ♂ Red-footed Falcon, Vila Franca de Bonany, 6 May

 2cy ♀ Red-footed Falcon, Maria de la Salut, 7 May

Adult ♀ Red-footed Falcon, Maria de la Salut, 7 May

After seeing them fairly poorly in Corsica a few years ago, it was nice to reacquaint myself with the vocalisations and appearance of Moltoni's Warblers, with three singing males at Embalse de Cuber, as well as locally breeding Tyrrhenian Flycatchers there. Overhead in the mountains produced 20+ Griffon (these must be a recent thing on Mallorca - I never remember seeing them before?) and a handful of Cinereous Vultures and Booted Eagles.

Eurasian Griffon & Cinereous Vultures, Embalse de Gorg Blau, 6 May

It was a truly enjoyable couple of days away, and a cheap trip to boot - my return flight cost me £80 with Easyjet. I did the trip alone, but two or three up would make it an particularly inexpensive weekend trip, and very much recommended for some reasonable and relaxed birding in pleasant surroundings and weather.